This month I celebrate three years of being gluten-free. I say “celebrate” but who really celebrates never eating pizza again? Yes, I feel much better these days but I had to relearn how to eat. I mean, I basically teethed on cat-head biscuits as a baby and thought all things should be covered in gravy before I was urged by the surgeon who performed my gallbladder surgery to look into Celiac Disease as a possible explanation for a wide range of unexplainable issues I had, including infertility, arthritis, painful and irregular periods, asthma, allergies, anemia and bowel issues.
Here’s where my journey has taken me and what I’ve learned along the way:
Why I Chose Paleo
Once I knew I had to go gluten-free, I decided to do so using the guidelines for the Paleo diet. I had talked with many people suffering from Celiac Disease who had success following the autoimmune protocol so I thought I’d give it a shot. I eliminated grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and processed foods. I went egg-free briefly (it is suggested if you have autoimmune disorders) but added them back into my diet. I had a hard time getting enough protein while breastfeeding without eggs.
What a Typical Day of Food Looked Like
Kale salad with green apple, walnuts and grilled chicken
Homemade jerkey, hard-boiled egg or avocado with evoo and salt/peper
Meat and three style (One meat with three veggies)
Pork loin with green beans, baked sweet potato and sauteed kale
Frozen cherries with almond milk or pureed frozen banana with almond butter and Enjoy life chips
When Things Began to Change
I had energy.
My skin was bright.
My bowel problems went away.
I started having regular periods.
I went an entire winter without getting sick.
My allergies were far less severe.
I put my inhaler in a drawer and didn’t use it for almost an entire year.
My hair stopped falling out.
I lost almost 25 pounds without the stress and effort I had put into years of Weight Watchers.
In the past, anemia has caused my nails to fall off. That didn’t happen once the year I was on Paleo.
I felt amazing on Paleo! But, I also felt like a total freak.
Social gatherings were difficult. It was hard enough to explain why I wasn’t eating the chicken and dumplings but then when people would graciously offer up gluten-free items that didn’t fall within the Paleo guidelines, I’d feel pressured to eat them and then feel lousy later. When I’m eating Paleo and “cheat”, it isn’t pretty. I have an especially bad reaction to anything with soy. It feels like someone punched me in the stomach and the inflammation flare ups cause my joints to ache. I’m miserable. I felt better physically but struggled to go out to eat with friends and family or enjoy eating meals anywhere but home.
How I Neglected Myself and Quit Paleo
I have stayed 100% gluten free but I came to realize that if I ate more corn and processed food, I built up a sort of tolerance and didn’t have the same immediate adverse symptoms (arthritis flare ups and stomach pain.) LET ME BE CLEAR HERE: I didn’t get that punched-in-the-gut feeling when I ate certain foods like tortilla chips, which made me more fun at parties I guess, but you remember that list of changes I had seen when I started the Paleo diet? Here’s how that changed after I quit:
I had no energy.
I was irritable.
I struggled to concentrate.
I caught every cold or virus coming and going.
I suddenly had problems with acne.
My hair started falling out again.
5 Things I’ve Learned from Failing the Paleo Diet:
1. Sugar makes me crazy. There, I said it. Sugar makes me irritable, forgetful, sluggish and maybe even a little mean. I don’t feel like my best self when I’m eating sugar.
2. I don’t gain weight from eating a high-fat diet. I wish I had realized this in my early 20s when I was living on fat-free yogurt and 100 Calorie Snacks. When do I gain weight? When I start eating corn and sugar. One month of eating corn and sugar and I can see a HUGE difference in my body.
3. I feel more at peace mentally when I am eating Paleo. I feel like I live more in the moment, savoring the abundance of each season. I think eating natural food is about feeding more than your body. It’s a spiritual act.
4. I spent more time with my family. I was thoughtful about our meals. I didn’t grab convenience foods 3 out of 5 weeknights. I was intentional about us slowing down.
5. I was happier. The truth is, I was fulfilled. I ate when I was hungry. I drank when I was thirsty. I felt good in my skin. I felt satisfied from inside-out.
What’s Next for Me?
I feel like eliminating grains, sugar, processed foods and dairy significantly improve my health, both mentally and physically. That said, I truly think eating whole food is part of a fulfilling, creative life.